The Islanders lost right winger Jordan Eberle to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft. While clearing his salary was a plus, his work on the first line will be missed. He had good chemistry with Mat Barzal and had greatly improved his defensive play under Barry Trotz. The Islanders have to make sure they find a new winger who can mesh well with Barzal and Lee on that all important first line. They have a number of options in house or on the trade market to possibly fill that role.
Although it is not official, the rumors are that Kyle Palmieri has a handshake agreement to return to the Islanders. If the rumor is true, then he is the leading candidate to take over Eberle’s role on the first line. He found his footing with the team during the postseason, as he was tied for the team lead in goals with seven. He also got some playing time with Barzal against the Lightning and looked well in that role. Most importantly, he fit right in playing Barry Trotz’s defensive system of hockey and never looked out of place. Palmieri would be able to slide right into Eberle’s role on the first line in that regard. However, he struggled to score goals at his typical pace last year, scoring only 10 regular season goals. That was his lowest total since his third season in 2012. But his years of goal scoring experience and solid defensive play make him the safest bet to play on the first line. He could even be in for a comeback season playing with the returning offensive powerhouse Anders Lee.
While Tarasenko isn’t a part of the current team, the Islanders are reportedly amongst the teams interested in trading for him. If they do acquire him, he’d be a no-brainer to take Eberle’s role as the first line right wing. He’s an absolutely prolific sniper capable of scoring well over 20 goals, which the Islanders need. His sniper mentality will help Barzal a lot given his tendency to pass the puck and create for others. He’ll also work extremely well with Anders Lee given Lee’s net front style of play.
Lee can cash in on shots Tarasenko takes on net, and Lee can help Tarasenko score while screening the goaltender. The only risk with Tarasenko is the string of shoulder injuries Tarasenko has had of late. It seemingly impacted his play last year, where he didn’t put up his typical goal scoring numbers. But he’s reportedly fully healthy now, and for the Islanders it’s a risk worth taking. Even if he’s not the same player as before, he could at least replicate Eberle’s numbers.
Josh Bailey would be the worst case scenario of the Islanders losing out on both Palmieri and Tarasenko. Not that he would be a terrible option, but he certainly would not be an upgrade. His point production has been steadily going downwards since his all star year in 2017. He also still has some defensive lapses, which would make that line a defensive liability with Barzal also having lapses of his own. Bailey is still a productive player as a whole, but he’s best suited for the role he has on the second line. That combination of Bailey Beauvillier and Nelson has worked well together, especially during this past postseason. Moving Bailey off of that line would hurt it’s production, creating more problems than solutions for the offense and defense alike.
Wahlstrom is at the bottom of this list because he is the least likely to take over that role immediately. While he would be a fan favorite option, there’s little to no chance this happens regularly. Anyone who’s seen Barry Trotz’s lineup decisions knows how much he prefers to use veteran players. But from a play style perspective, Wahlstrom would be a pretty solid fit on this line. He showed an aggressiveness on offense that would be great alongside Barzal and Lee. The problem here is the risk of putting a 21 year old player in such a high leverage spot. While he showed flashes of being a great player, he still has to further develop his game to be consistent. Putting a developing player in such an important spot isn’t the best idea for a team trying to make it to the finals. For now, he’ll be best suited in his typical third line role with J.G. Pageau and possibly Zach Parise. But Wahlstrom could easily be a regular first liner in the not too distant future if he continues to improve his game.
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